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Gunman's Walk

1958 | 16:9 | Color | Quality: Excellent

Van Heflin

Tab Hunter

James Darren, Kathryn Grant


Lee Hackett (Van Heflin) is a hard cattle rancher who, ages ago, tamed the wild frontier and established what is now a vibrant and peaceful community. Still he finds it hard to shake off the old ways of the Old West. In the meantime, he also wants the best for his two boys, Ed (Tab Hunter) and Davy (James Darren). Ed is wild, full of bravado, quick with a gun, and bitter about following in his father's shadow. Davy on the other hand is soft, gentle, and not prone to gunplay. Heflin is very effective at playing the overindulgent father, blind to the realities that both boys are dealing with. Trouble erupts when Hunter and a half-breed Sioux (Bert Convy) race after a prized white stallion that they've been trying to catch for some time now. Hunter runs his horse into Convy, forcing him off a cliff to his death below. Now with his son on trial for murder, Van Heflin cuts a deal for false testimony with a shady horse trader in order to protect his boy. In the meantime, Darren has fallen in love with the dead victim's sister (Kathryn Grant) which also further complicates things between himself and his racist father. All of daddy's efforts are for naught when hothead Hunter breaks out of jail, killing the unarmed deputy (Mickey Shaughnessy) in the process, and forcing the town to form a posse to go after him. Even Heflin can't save his boy at this point, but he knows where he's headed and hopes to get there before the posse does...

Director Phil Karlson is best known more for his tough, gritty, violent crime dramas ("99 River Street," "The Phenix City Story," among others) than horse operas, but this tight little western is reminiscent of the best of Karlson's urban thrillers. There is an excellent script by Frank Nugent & Ric Hardman along with two very powerful performances by Van Heflin and Tab Hunter. The thesis appears to show how the philosophy which built the "old west" does not survive through to the more civilized next generation; it must adapt, or die. Tab Hunter is excellent as the spoiled, egomaniacal, reckless son of a wealthy rancher, who believes that his family's riches and position are pretty much a blank check to do whatever he wants to whoever he wants - including murder. Hunter's tightly wound, controlled performance is a real eye-opener for those who always thought of him as just another pretty boy teen idol who couldn't act (i.e., Ricky Nelson, Fabian, etc.). This is by far Hunter's best work. You can see his internal spring winding tighter and tighter as he pushes the envelope further and further until it's just a matter of time before he explodes. Hunter is very sympathetic and likable at first - which turns out to be exactly the point. He and Mr. Heflin, an asset in most every film, are very good. Their performances "tell" the story. Mr. Darren as the goody-goody unfortunately doesn't have much to work with and mostly just reacts to what is happening around him. Veteran character actor Robert F. Simon is very good as the town sheriff and Heflin's friend, who realizes that he's given Hunter one too many breaks and is torn between his obligations to his friend and his duty as a lawman. Gunman's Walk on plot synopsis and summaries sounds like your standard B Western fare, and certainly the theme of parental influence is nothing new, but that doesn't stop the film from being an intelligent and potent genre piece that fuses together multiple issues such as parenting, blind love, prejudice and ignorance, and others, with the central character, Lee Hackett (Van Heflin), being torn between the old and the new.

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